Saturday 13 June 2015

Bonus Post Coz Rachel Dolezal

What's this woman doing with my hair?
Certain man undergoes facial reconstruction, hires Annie Leibovitz and declares himself a woman. Women everywhere told to applaud.

Certain woman undergoes fake tan, supernaturally convincing perm and declares herself (on forms) black. Everyone everywhere told to laugh themselves silly.

Both people are lying their heads off, and both are quite obviously eccentric, if not, you know, mad. I don't know anything about the man's parents, but I have to say that I think Rachel Dolezal's parents are the villains of her story. Above all else, what kind of parents call up the media to embarrass their own child (their only naturally born child) before the entire English-speaking world?  What kind of American parents intentionally plunge their child into this week's American Race Crisis? Do they hate her that much?

Meanwhile, people think its hilarious that apparently white-girl Rachel is obsessed with African-American culture? Her parents replaced her with four black children. Not one. Not two. Not even three. FOUR.

Where did she get her abiding interest in African-American culture anyway? Where did I get my Catholic faith? Why are all my parents' children inveterate bookworms? Hmm.

So boo Ma and Pa Dolezal, who used to live in a teepee, so fascinated were they by their tenuous (if not completely fictional) Cherokee ancestry.

To my massive surprise, I found out I could "pass" as black when I was a teenager. Unbeknownst to me, black people accept an astonishing wide range of skin tones as "black" but many assume my hair type can only spring from African roots (so to speak). And, sure enough, in the USA in particular, you will see very pale and freckled African-Americans with very dry and curly hair, sometimes dyed or just bleached reddish. Thus, despite my European facial features, I look one heck of a lot more African-American in my natural state than poor Rachel Dolezal in hers.

I have never, however, thought there was anything to gain from intentionally "passing."  In fact, I have always deeply believed that would be a deeply disrespectful--and risky--thing to do. It would also be a lie, although I suppose I will never know unless I get my DNA read. If it turns out my fuzzy-haired American great-grandmother was "passing," my family will have a real laugh.

Once upon a time an African-Canadian hairdresser recommended that I use African-American hair products. So I went to the "Ethnic" section of the drug store and looked at the straighteners, etc. And I asked myself, Do I believe companies treat African-American women with the same care as they do other women? And I answered, No. These are people who are encouraging African-American women to have straight hair "like white women." I don't trust them an inch!

My father is from Chicago; I know perfectly well African-Americans have been treated like crap, and as nice as everybody might be if I checked the African-American box on university and work applications (which, to be honest, never occurred to me until long after I arrived in Boston), there might be SERIOUS disadvantages down the line.

There was one moment, when I was so ticked off by what seemed to me the deeply racist and paternalist anti-racism policies of Boston College, which divides the student body into white and AHANA (African, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, all lumped together), that I was seriously tempted to sidle into a special tea party for female AHANA graduate students.  I was accidentally "passing" quite often anyway--in the streets if not at the college. I stared at the advert, and the sign stared blindly at me, and I thought, "No. As ticked off as I am, and as alien as I find the American racial obsession, I'm just not going to do that."

If I had,  I would have been a lot more  to blame than Rachel Dolezal. Rachel has been doing what she has been doing out of LOVE for African-American culture. She obviously really loves it. She loves it so much she wants to be it. I would have just being a lying, smugly Canadian, rhymes-with-witch.
100% Northern European, y'all. We think.

P.S. The nicest remarks I've found about the Rachel Dolezal scandal are from African-American women on Jezebel praising her hair. They're giggling, but they are applauding her curls. Mad props to Rachel for getting the hair right. How she did it is a mystery to me. I mean, mine just grows like this.


  1. I wanted curls like that when I was a kid in the 80s and I could NOT get it. It just went Shirley Temple.

    I too have noticed that most of the sneering is from white people assuming that black people (whom they assume are constantly angry and looking to be offended) will be horrified and outraged, and most of the support is coming from actual black women. I also note that one of Rachel's (black) brothers moved in with her as a teenager, whereas most teen boys would hate to live with their older sisters rather than their parents. I additionally note that most people do things that annoy their parents and most parents don't call up reporters to complain.

    I am also disgusted that the news is showing the Rachel with straight hair smiling and looking pleasant, and the curly-haired tan Rachel is glowering. This reinforces a nasty stereotype in the US that pale, straight-haired blondes are cute, sweet and innocent and women with darker skin and big, curly hair are ... the opposite. Shameful.

    There's a lot of racial prejudice on display right now in the news, and it's not coming from Rachel.

  2. That's true about the photos. I hadn't noticed that, but you're quite right.

    I hope the NAACP continue to support Rachel and don't bow to pressure from the flesh-eating pirhana press. After all, what she did was the ultimate tribute. By posing as black, she ran the risk of people making anti-black remarks to her or other unpleasantness.

    I see Al Sharpton has criticized Rachel's parents, too.

  3. Hmm. I see there a lot of people who would totally disagree with me, and see what did as the ultimate white privilege. Hmm. I think the ultimate white privilege is living in a white-majority country not having to think about what race I am and what other people think about it.

    1. It would appear she temporarily gave that up by going to Howard, of course.

  4. By going to Howard, she got a great education and also took a more radical step than most people ever take toward understanding another culture. She wasn't a schoolteacher or volunteer in charge of minority kids, she was a student learning from a mostly black faculty.

    It is imperative that the (white) people who claim "I don't see race" see exactly what race everyone is at all times. Rachel has broken this rule; if we can't reliably distinguish ethnicity, how will we alternately confirm our prejudices and pat ourselves on the back for our open-mindedness?

    It is imperative that the (white) people bragging about their knowledge of their white privilege never actually make any serious moves to divest themselves of said privilege. Living as a member of another ethnicity for any length of time is the most effective and obvious way to do this -- which is why it is forbidden. Rachel has broken this rule. She has shown them up. She must be punished by being called more racially privileged than the white people who have made a living out of bragging about their racial humility.

  5. Hah! A very insightful comment!

  6. Sorry, but I have to disagree that she did this out of pure reasons. She definitely benefited professionally by passing herself off as black, given the job that she just resigned. (Note: I'm not saying she would benefit in all industries, just in the particular one in which she worked.) She may have identified with the culture, but that does not make her part of that race.

  7. I don't think anyone thinks that her reasons were "pure." We're just pointing out that they might not have all been entirely selfish and grasping.

    I do not at all identify with African-American culture (although of course I admire jazz and swing-dancing quite a lot), so it will be amusing (and surprising) if my DNA shows I have African-American ancestry. The question for reflection will be, Do I belong to the "black race" because one of my great-great-grandparents was identified as black? How much is "race" based on actual genetics, how much on culture and how much on lived experience? Have I felt marginalized for my "weird" hair? Have people constantly asked me if they can touch it? Heck, yes. Reading black women talk about their hair is a real eye-opener for me, let me tell you! "It's not just me!" I keep thinking.

  8. Hmm. Your position on this is a bit baffling to me. But I must say, the most disturbing part of your defense is the suggestion that her parents "replaced her with four black children."
    Since when is adoption of children, replacement for the children who already exist in a family? What the what? I'm baffled here! Just utterly confused.
    My aunt an uncle adopted their oldest child, when it appeared they couldn't have babies the old fashioned way, then went on to have three homemade babies.
    By your Logic, did they then replace their adopted child with 'real' children?
    How insulting to the gracious gift of adoption.

  9. The Dolezals are a special, special case. Naturally I don't think all adoptive parents are as eyebrow-raising as Ma and Pa D. I've never met your aunt and uncle.

    Of course, some people do use and abuse adoption, and some people, like the American National Association of Black Social Workers, find inter-racial adoption very controversial. Devout Catholics find adoption of children by same-sex couples very controversial. Buying children for adoption, under the guise of surrogate motherhood, is very controversial. Australia is still haunted by all the "Home children" sent out there by Barnados; they ended up as child labour or worse. And, when I idly looked up whether or not there were Syrian orphans who needed adopting, my eyes were very widely opened by a very angry-but-controlled explanation by someone or other that the Syrians, having lost everything else, wanted to keep their children, not have them adopted by rich Westerners. I thought my eyebrows would singe right off. I imagined some poor Syrian woman--half my age--hanging with all her might to the baby I was sort of thinking I might be able to adopt, and I felt extremely rotten.

    I think it is indeed a gift whenever a mother chooses to give her child life instead of having him aborted, even when she knows it means she will have to give him up to some other woman, or even a couple of men.

    1. Re: Syrian Adoption-While I can see the author's (of that article) point, I do wonder how many orphans are wandering around Syria starving to death or living in the gutter with no one to take care of them. I would have assumed that people who wanted to adopt children from Syria were not thinking of ripping children from their parents, but adopting children who didn't have anyone else to take care of them? Or am I just being naive?

  10. Broadly speaking, race is a way of indicating that a person is more related to one group of people than another. (From Europe, Afria, or Asia.) Of course, it does get rather interesting considering the mixed genetics that many have. Does one go by the "one drop" rule of the Jim Crow South, or by what the highest percentage of someone's descent? In my experience, I see a lot of people go by the "one drop" rule. It is slightly laughable to hear someone who is blonde haired, blue eyed, couldn't pick them out of a crowd in Northern Europe, complain that they face discrimination for being Native American. Yes, they greatly identify with their (distant) roots, but the common person off the street is not going to perceive them as a minority. Dolezal seems to have taken this a step further, and identified with her adopted sibling's race. I've seen women darken their skin considerably (spray tan) so they look more like their biracial children. I think the main reason Dolezal has gotten flak is because it looks like she benefited professionally from claiming to be a different race.

    15 years ago people would have laughed their heads off at Jenner, but that topic has become PC. If anything, trans-racial makes more sense than the other, but has not been granted PC status by our zeitgeist overlords. Laughing that the emperor has no clothes is a sign of health, even if it is impolite. Just as a man who feels he should be a woman is still a man, a person of northern European descent is still Caucasian even if she wishes her ancestors hailed from Angola. Pity over their psychological issues is perhaps the more Christian response, but praise of the subjects is contrary to dealing with reality.

  11. Yes, I think pity (mercy?) is the way to go. I'm not interested in kicking Rachel Dolezal, but I don't think she's much of a role model either. It occured to me today, as the cold June wind blew my Type 3C hair all around my head, that she (or her parents) had potentially made life worse for me, since now instead of being mistaken periodically for mixed race, I might be mistaken for a white woman who is deliberately TRYING to look mixed race.


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